Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Mother and Baby Institutions: Statements


6:20 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Rural Independent Group for giving me this opportunity. On another occasion I may have a debate with Deputy Durkan on his analysis that we were all in this together, and the ignoring of the huge element of power and the imbalance of power that was there. As someone who proudly comes from Galway city, let me tell the Deputy that I was raised in a city that had two industrial schools, with which we were threatened on a regular basis if you are a boy or a girl, in Lenaboy and Lower Salthill. Then, if you were really bad you were threatened with Letterfrack. If that was not enough, there was the Magdalen home in the city. We then go eastwards to Tuam, not to mention Loughrea. There is a whole debate there in relation to power.

Perhaps ironic is not the word, but it is ironic that since the sterling work of Catherine Corless beginning in 2014 and onwards, more words have been spoken in this Dáil on this issue than in the history of the State, including the time period when since these institutions were at their best, if I could use that word in the most cynical and sarcastic manner. We have had two debates this week alone.

I thank the Minister for his work to date, but unfortunately I cannot agree with the scheme he has come up with. He said:

I have heard countless stories of horrendous suffering. I cannot begin to imagine the bravery it takes to share those accounts.

It takes such bravery to survive these institutions and still have a sense of humour and a joie de vivre, and still have enough energy to say "listen not just to us but also listen so that society can improve". We need to match that bravery with proper actions. We need to make the language mean something. I say this every week in Dáil Éireann. We need to match their bravery and we do not need to perpetuate further discrimination, which unfortunately this scheme is doing. While there are many good things in the Minister's speech, he also spoke about the Government being "an imperfect vehicle for righting the wrongs of the past". Imperfect or not, it is the only vehicle now that can make restitution for past wrongs. We are not doing that with this scheme.

I welcome the opportunity today to have a second bite of the cherry after the previous debate and I offer my gratitude to Sinn Féin for that. The Minister has failed to tell us why he ignored the consultation process, as has been pointed out by Deputy Holly Cairns and other Deputies. Why have a consultation process and then ignore it? Some 85% of respondents said to not discriminate, but that is exactly what the Minister has done. He has come to the Chamber today with a detailed speech. If I had more time, I would go into the positive aspects of the action plan, for example with regard to memorisation. Before I finish, I may come back to Galway in relation to the use of Lenaboy, which has remained empty since 2011. Ten years later that industrial school is still empty. I will come back to that. Why ignore the consultation process? That brings everything into disrepute and adds to the distrust. We all participated in that process. I did so in my office. We went there in trust, and then the Minister ignores the findings of it.

Where has the six-month criterion come from? When I spoke earlier this week, I tried to find out it where it came from. The interdepartmental group had no expertise on it. The Attorney General was represented on it, as was the State Claims Agency. This gives an indication of what was going on here. There was no expertise from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. It made a submission, but it was not there because the Minister chose the instrument and the framework of an interdepartmental committee. That excluded all of the other expertise because an interdepartmental committee cannot, by its very nature, have anybody from outside the Department included. That was a mistake. We were going to get this type of report from them. It was a foregone conclusion. They tell us that the six-month issue would have cost implications as well as a risk of creating legislative and equity difficulties that could ultimately derail attempts to provide supports to those who require them. This is what they tell us as one of the justifications but I do not understand that logic. They repeat that on other pages where they say that such extensions could create risk. I believe that more than 24,000 children would have come within the six-month timeframe. My reading of that language is that it is simply to save money, with no understanding whatsoever of what it meant to be in a mother and baby home. At this point, I ask the Minister to please reflect on that, to review it and to listen to those of us who represent the people on the ground.

I believe the Minister received a letter from all of the psychologists and psychotherapists. Did he respond to that and has he looked at it?

I do not believe there should be a waiver. I have seen the arguments for and against it, and I am aware that it was teased out. The money is so small. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the implications of the waiver for me. If a person gets €5,000 and signs the waiver, does that mean he or she cannot take an action in relation to records or other aspects? That will need to be clarified very clearly. I do not believe there should be a waiver at all.

I welcome that there is no gagging clause, but it is hard to imagine that we are at such a base level that we have to welcome the lack of a gagging clause and the fact that somebody is free to come out and say that they got €5,000 under this payment scheme. On the interim payments, will the Minister please confirm at the very least that there will be interim payments and periodic payments?

The Minister has said that he goes way beyond the commission of inquiry report. Will the Minister confirm what his view of that report is now? I do not mean the body of the work, which I have praised, but the actual conclusions and the executive summaries, which I believe are appalling and unacceptable. Has the Minister read the alternative conclusions from the alternative group?

On redress schemes to date, I had the privilege of being a member of the Committee of Public Accounts when we had a review of the first redress scheme. The Comptroller and Auditor General pointed out the importance of having a post hocevaluation of the redress scheme. Was that ever conducted? Did the Minister learn from it? Can we see that analysis?

With regard to the maladministration and the Magdalen homes, the Ombudsman in his report said:

In order to ensure that any future restorative justice or redress schemes benefit from the learning from the operation of this and other schemes, guidance should be produced in respect of the development and operation of such schemes generally.

Has that guidance been produced? This is something as basic as guidance to learn from the mistakes of the past before we repeat them.


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